Inside Amazon’s Kindle Worlds

deadman_csui_v1._V358430453_There have been lots of questions and concerns among professional “tie-in” writers — the authors who write books based on TV shows, movies, games, etc — about Amazon’s new Kindle Worlds program. So the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers, which I co-founded with Max Allan Collins, approached Amazon’s Philip Patrick, Director, Business Development and Publisher of Kindle Worlds, to see if he’d be willing to answer some questions from our members and, to our delight, he was. Here are some of the questions and his replies:

Q: I have a mid-list career (and growing) as a cozy mystery writer, and as an indie publisher. Work in tie-ins has become harder to find and less lucrative over the last couple years, and I’ve mostly stepped back from the field.  Initially I dismissed Kindle Worlds as a bad bet. But now I am rethinking that. Do you see this program as a way to expand the troubled tie-in market for authors and to create more opportunities for franchise holders?

Philip Patrick: We see Kindle Worlds as another option for all writers and readers, and a great opportunity for professional writers to explore the stories and Worlds they feel passionate about. Licensors have an opportunity to deeply engage with their enthusiastic fans, and earn new revenues from the Worlds they created. Our job is to create the best possible experience for writers, readers, and World licensors.

Q: There’s lots of fanfiction out there and the vast majority is awful. What kind of curation is Kindle Worlds going to do, not so much for adherence to franchise rules but in terms of writing quality?

PP: Part of our mission at Kindle Worlds and Amazon Publishing is to act as a laboratory and develop new ways for writers to be creative, to connect with readers, and to earn money. In the case of Kindle Worlds, we don’t see ourselves as curators, because part of our job is to open up these Worlds to writers and readers who feel passionately about their characters and stories. Ultimately our customers will decide which writers and stories they enjoy through their reviews, but the quality is already coming through: Kindle Worlds stories have received great reviews – more than 840 customer reviews, in total – averaging around 4.3 stars. The prospect of selling a book and having it get reviewed by passionate fans makes a writer better, we think.

Q: What other properties does KW expect to acquire? Can you talk about what type of properties they are interested in and what makes them appropriate for KW?

315x180_Tile._V359875366_PP: It all comes down to great storytelling, compelling characters, and vibrant geographies that writers are excited to explore. Some Worlds are going to be more current than others, of course, but there are many iconic works and characters that Kindle Worlds writers are going to love.

Q: What is the criteria and process for selecting worlds/franchises/properties, how are the owners compensated, etc? Can authors contact Amazon about licensing their books and short fiction for Kindle Worlds? Basically, what opportunities exist for authors on the licensing side of KW?

PP: We are always looking for new Worlds from authors and other licensors, and because royalties are split three ways – between the licensor, the writer, and the publisher – there is incentive and opportunity for all three.

Q: KW allows authors to keep their copyrights. Yet the effect of the agreement is work-for-hire.  Can you explain your thinking?

PP: Kindle Worlds differs from works-for-hire in that our authors retain 35% of net revenue of their books’ sales. We like to think of our royalties as an incentive to write really good stuff, so it sells well for a long time. Authors get to contribute to a World and make an on-going profit off their original works in that World, which is really cool, a win-win for the author and the World.  An author grants us an exclusive license to the story and all of the original elements the author includes in that story.  We then allow the original World licensor and other Kindle Worlds authors to use those new elements.  That seems fair to us and it’s why we have the rights set up as we do. If a writer doesn’t want to make that concession, we understand and we have a lot of ways they can publish their own original work on Amazon.

Q: The audio royalty seems low, as does the sublicense royalty.  Can this be negotiated on an individual basis?

PP: No, we don’t negotiate individual terms. We feel the royalty rates are very competitive.

Q: With the price of the work to be set by Amazon and with the royalty rate set at 35%, what incentive is there for a writer to write stories longer than 10,000 words?  If a longer story is going to get the same rate as a shorter work, it would seem to make the most sense for a writer to write more short works than one longer one (e.g., 5x 10k word stories rather than 1x 50k story).  Can you address this seeming inequality of payment?

PP: The current standard author’s royalty rate for works of at least 10,000 words is 35% of net revenue, while shorter works (between 5,000 to 10,000 words) pay authors a digital royalty of 20% of net revenue.  Kindle Worlds is an option and a choice for authors – we think many will quite like the choice.

Q: KW reserves the right not to publish submitted works. Could you provide some information as to what happens during the review and approval process?  What happens after a writer hits the submit button?  Does Amazon review the story, does the IP holder review the story? Are there editorial changes to be made or is the story simply approved or denied without editorial changes to be made?

tile_vampire-diaries_3._V381288068_PP: Every Licensor sets Content Guidelines for their Worlds. Once a writer submits his or her story, we review it to ensure that it follows those Content Guidelines for its World. The pre-publication review process typically takes a day or two. If we have questions during the review, we reach out to the author to figure out answers.  But there is no storyline approval a writer has to go through. This is an open playing field with some boundaries (the Content Guidelines), but if a writer writes within those Guidelines, then we very much expect to publish the writer’s story.

Q:What are the top three mistakes writers are making when submitting stories to KW and what can writers, professional and amateur, do to make the KW process easier on themselves from submission to approval?

PP: Great question. My biggest piece of advice would be to follow the Content Guidelines and really focus on a story that will appeal to a World’s core fan base. As you all know, that takes some work to do. But it is worth it.

Q: Will Amazon promote works by established authors differently than works by “fans”?  Would KW let readers know our credits so they can take that into account when deciding whether to make a purchase?  If so, how do we let KW “editors” know during the submission process that we are pros with published books, also available on Amazon, to our credit?

PP: Every story will ultimately stand on its own merits, particularly the stories our customers respond to with positive reviews and recommendations. Amazon highlights all of an author’s works through their author pages, both previously published novels and Kindle Worlds titles.

Q: Say an author wants to write a Quantum Leap novel (expired show) or Person of Interest (a current Warner Brothers Television show). Can an author work with KW to obtain a license to write in that universe?

PP: We know that a lot of IAMTW members have long and deep relationships with both current and expired properties and we’re happy to receive suggestions. Our feedback email on site is checked on a regular basis and that is a great way to reach us.

Q: How does the editorial staff handle creative control specifically related to the individual property? An example: I write a Vampire Diaries novel where I kill everyone off. Readers complain that I don’t have the voice right, I clearly have never watched the show, etc. Do readers have a say in whether a KW book remains in print? Will KW ask an author to do a rewrite in response to reader reviews?

tile_pretty-little-liars_v5._V381288170_PP: One creative challenge in Kindle Worlds is that incredibly passionate and knowledgeable fans are typically among the first readers. If a story misses the mark, those fans will voice their response through customer reviews. How a writer responds to customer reviews is really up to him or her. We wouldn’t put a book out of print or demand re-writes based on customer reviews alone. The Kindle Worlds platform is flexible enough, though, for a writer to rework and republish their story based on customer feedback. That’s a unique feature of digital publishing overall: a writer can modify his or her work almost in real time, as they receive critical feedback. We’d gladly accept a new version of a book if a writer wanted to make changes after customer reviews came rolling in.

Q: At the moment the requirement to have a US bank account is a barrier for non-US writers to become involved with Kindle Worlds. Are any plans to relax this or provide another route.

PP: Yes, we are working to make the platform more accessible globally.

Q: Do publishers and license holders (Universal, Paramount, etc.) see this program as a real threat to the tie-in publishing world as it exists now? Are they unlikely to allow KW fiction if an existing book line (for example, Monk, Star Trek, Leverage, Supernatural, etc.) already exists? The argument against KW could be “why would a reader buy a $7.99 Supernatural book if they can get the KW stories for significantly less?”

PP: This is a new option and a choice for those licensors. Kindle Worlds may not be attractive for everyone, and that’s fine.  But the response so far has been very encouraging, and we continue to receive useful feedback from all of our partners: licensors, writers, and fans.

Q: On the author side, are the publishers pressuring franchise holders NOT to do business with KW because they are concerned fewer pro authors will work for them, with the restriction and tiny royalties/advances, when they can get a bigger royalty writing for KW?

PP: You’d have to talk to them.

Q: Is one of the things holding back KW from acquiring more name-brand franchises (Star Trek, Superman, X-Files, Twilight Zone, Dr. Who, etc.) that franchise holders are worried that allowing non-pro, cheaper Kindle World’s fiction will diminish the value, financially and creatively, of their properties?

PP: First, I’d say we are thrilled with the Kindle Worlds we’ve launched to date, and very excited about what we have coming up. This is a new business and a complex one at that, so we’ve always expected it would take some time to develop. That said, we are constantly adding new World Licensors and will be announcing new Worlds in the coming weeks and months.

Q: How likely are we to see vintage TV (WIld Wild West, Remington Steele, Mannix, Lost in Space, Knightrider, Hart to Hart, Stargate, Farscape, etc) and movie properties (Dirty Harry, Independence Day, High Noon, Bill & Ted, Breakfast Club, etc) included in Kindle Worlds? The franchises on KW now don’t seem to be the ones likely to draw lots of passionate readers or writers.

PP: Those are all great suggestions; we are actively exploring many different properties, so stay tuned on that front. I’d challenge the idea, however, that the Worlds we have don’t draw passionate readers or writers. Since June, we’ve published more than 250 Kindle Worlds titles, and they’ve earned hundreds of positive reviews, with an overall review average around 4.3. We’re thrilled with the response to date.

Q: Where does Amazon hope to see the KW program a year from now?

PP: The response so far has been very encouraging. We are thrilled with writers who have been publishing with us and the readers who have been buying their stories. And we’re excited to continue to add new Worlds for writers and more stories for readers.

“The Walk” Kicks off Amazon’s New Matchbook Program

The_Walk_FINAL (2)My novel THE WALK, originally published by Five Star in the early 2000s, was a critical success but a commercial failure that went quickly out of print. I republished it on the Kindle in 2009 and it has become a bestseller, selling over a hundred thousand copies. As recently as last month, it was #1 again on Amazon. Today, Amazon is featuring the book in their announcement of the new Amazon Matchbook program.

Today, Amazon launched Kindle MatchBook, a new benefit that gives customers the option to buy—for $2.99, $1.99, $0.99, or free—the Kindle edition of print books they have purchased new from Amazon. Over 70,000 books are enrolled in Kindle MatchBook, with more being added every day. Now customers can visit to see all of their print books that are eligible for the Kindle MatchBook edition. Customers can also see when a book is eligible for Kindle MatchBook on the book’s detail page.

The program was announced on September 3 with over 10,000 titles. Since then, thousands of popular books likeHeaven is for RealThe Things They Carried and The Way of Kings have been added from major publishers such as HarperCollins, Macmillan, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Amazon Publishing, Wiley, Chronicle Books, and Marvel, as well as thousands of titles from Kindle Direct Publishing authors like The Walk by Lee Goldberg and Falling Into You byJasinda Wilder.

“It’s been great to see the positive response to MatchBook from both readers and publishers,” said Russ Grandinetti, Vice President, Kindle Content. “MatchBook enrollment has grown from 10,000 to 70,000 titles in just a few weeks and we expect it will keep expanding rapidly in the months ahead.”

Lessons of The Obsidian Heart

9781477807606_p0_v2_s260x420My friend Mark Barnes’ new novel The Obsidian Heart is a character and plot driven story, as much political thriller as fantasy adventure. It’s the second novel in his lyrical Echoes of Empire series, an epic, fantastic tale of family loyalty and political intrigue, fraught with shadowy visions, baroque magic, arcane science, bloody feuds, and ancient forces whose agendas are as yet unknown. I invited him here to talk about what he learned while writing the second novel in his series.

It’s been said that the second novel is the hardest, and the one where a number of authors stumble. Inexperienced as I may be, I’d challenge that to say the novel you’re working on should be the hardest, because you want to improve in some way on what you’ve done previously. I looked at the second novel as a blessing, and a curse. A blessing, because this time I was being paid to do what I loved, to share more of my story with readers, and to get better at what I did. A curse, because I had to do all that while the clock was ticking, adding demands on a life that was already reasonably full.

When I signed a contract, the landscape changed. I was no longer working for myself, and had an obligation to complete my work within an established time frame, to an acceptable level of quality that wouldn’t cause my agent to facepalm, or give my editors a stroke. It reminded me a little of the warning you see on the side mirrors of your car: deadlines in the mirror are closer than they appear. In this case, three books released in a 12 month period.

By the time I broke ground on The Obsidian Heart, I was in the position where the first novel, The Garden of Stone, had been written and edited, but not released. The foundation for everything that was yet to come hadn’t been seen by the public: there were no reviews, and at this point no feedback on the project other than an enthusiastic agent, and publishing team. That support helped ferry me across rivers of doubt and second-guessing. But I was writing in a vacuum with regards to the response of paying readers. The only option was to continue with the story I wanted to tell, with the characters I’d become more familiar with, but to leverage from the lessons learned in the writing and editing process.

With The Garden of Stones, I had a detailed story plan that described everything. Writing The Obsidian Heart, I relied less on a rigid structure, and leaned more towards an organic experience where I strayed from the plan as the story grew, and characters evolved. This came from a greater familiarity with the world, the story, and the characters, as well as the knowledge that my work was going to be seen in the wild. My first readers had the impression that I enjoyed writing The Obsidian Heart more than I did The Garden of Stones: a shared view that I was more relaxed, and focused more on telling a story, than writing a novel. Such is true, because the pressure of getting published was no longer a millstone; it was replaced with the challenge of telling a better story, and being a better writer, which was more enjoyable Some of the things I found useful in the journey of writing the second novel were:

  1. Knowing what the story was going to be, and where the characters were going, before finger touched keyboard;
  2. More familiarity with my world, the people in it, and how they related to the various story threads that were going to unfold. A solid grasp on the foundations also meant I could be confidently flexible, as well as reigning things in when I needed to because a scene, cause, or effect made no sense;
  3. A world that grows in the telling. By changing the setting, I gave readers something new to see;
  4. Being aware of how long the narrative was going to be. This made it easier to work out how long writing and editing the novel was going to take;
  5. Having built up some writing fitness, and discipline. On a bad day I was doing about 1000 words. On a good day, circa 4000 words. This was a sustainable effort, thanks to having already written one novel;
  6. The deadline itself, as it gave me the time frames from which I calculated how much I needed to write in what time frame, allocating editing time, time for first readers to review and critique, etc; and
  7. Learning from my mistakes. I had no doubt that my agent and editors were focussed on making my book a better artifact than I had given them. A collaborative approach in editing taught me a lot about where I could improve. I hope it’s something for which I never lose my appreciation: good editors were, and always will be, my friend.

I’m writing this a week after the release of The Obsidian Heart, and early reviews and reader responses have been great. Here’s hoping it stays that way. I’d enjoy the ongoing opportunity to give readers the kinds of stories and characters they care about, in worlds they love.

Now You Can Join THE CHASE…

The Chase coverNow you can pre-order The Chasethe sequel to The Heistthe international bestseller that I wrote with Janet Evanovich. I am so excited about this book, which picks up right where the first one left off and takes readers on a whirlwind, global adventure. Here’s the book jacket copy:

Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg, New York Times bestselling authors of The Heist, return in this action-packed, exciting adventure featuring master con artist Nicolas Fox and die-hard FBI agent Kate O’Hare. And this time around, things go from hot to nuclear when government secrets are on the line. 

Internationally renowned thief and con artist Nicolas Fox is famous for running elaborate and daring scams. His greatest con of all: convincing the FBI to team him up with the only person who has ever caught him, Special Agent Kate O’Hare. Together they’ll go undercover to swindle and catch the world’s most wanted—and untouchable—criminals. Their newest target is Carter Grove, a former White House chief of staff and the ruthless leader of a private security agency. Grove has stolen a rare Chinese artifact from the Smithsonian, a crime that will torpedo U.S. relations with China if it ever becomes public. Nick and Kate must work under the radar—and against the clock—to devise a plan to steal the piece back. Confronting Grove’s elite assassins, Nick and Kate rely on the skills of their ragtag crew, including a flamboyant actor, a Geek Squad techie, and a band of AARP-card-carrying mercenaries led by none other than Kate’s dad.  A daring heist and a deadly chase lead Nick and Kate from Washington, D.C., to Shanghai, from the highlands of Scotland to the underbelly of Montreal. But it’ll take more than death threats, trained henchmen, sleepless nights, and the fate of a dynasty’s priceless heirloom to outsmart Fox and O’Hare.


Amazon Launches The Dead Man Kindle World

Today my series The Dead Man joined Pretty Little Liars, Vampire Diaries, and the works of Kurt Vonnegut among the many “franchises” in Amazon’s Kindle Worlds, their fanfiction publishing program. Now anyone can write, publish and sell Dead Man stories and novels on Amazon…and earn significant royalties.

I know what you’re thinking. Is this the same Lee Goldberg who has been railing against fanfiction on this blog for years?

Yes, indeed.

My problem with fanfiction has always been that it is copyright infringement… that people are ripping off characters and stories that they don’t own without the permission or involvement of the creators or rights holders.

Well,  now Amazon has cleverly solved that problem.

Everyone who writes in the Amazon Kindle Worlds are doing it with the consent of the rights holders…and both parties, the fanfiction writer and the rights holder, are profiting from the relationship. In fact, the Amazon Kindle Worlds are more akin to tie-in writing than fanfiction (but I’ll have more on that in a few days, when I do a Q&A interview here with the executive in charge of  Amazon’s Kindle Worlds).

You can find out more about how you can contribute to The Dead Man Kindle World here. In the mean time, you can read the very first Dead Man Kindle World title… Joseph Nassise’s Eater of Souls.

My 10 Favorite Western Authors

71UgoZxb2ML._SL1500_I love a good western novel…but there are so few writers who can do them well, avoiding the dusty cliches and tropes of the genre to deliver a powerful, memorable, original story with flesh-and-blood characters. So here are my 10 favorite western authors, in no particular order:

Larry McMurtryLonesome Dove and Streets of Laredo are two of the best westerns ever. Some of his follow-ups were entertaining, but never matched these two.

Frederick Manfred (aka Feike Feikema) – His Lord Grizzly is a classic, but I’d also strongly recommend Scarlet Plume, Riders of Judgment (made into a miniseries entitled The Johnson County Wars scripted by McMurtry) and Conquering Horse.

Bill Crider – I loved his books Outrage at Blanco and Texas Vigilante, which should be read back-to-back as one, wonderfully-told tale. I’ve been trying for years to get a movie version of those books off the ground and have come tantalizingly close several times. But I haven’t given up hope! He’s also written several other great westerns, too.

A.B. Guthrie – His novels The Big Sky and The Way West are not only classic novels… but classic movies, too. His wonderful westerns should be read in order (Big Sky, Way West, These Thousand Hills, Arfive, The Last Valley and Fair Land, Fair Land) since they are essentially a series.

Ed Gorman – I’ve raved about his books Trouble Man and Wolf Moon on this blog many times. But you’ll also enjoy Death Ground,Guild, hell, anything with his name on it.

H.A. DeRosso – One of the darkest western writers out there…and one of the least well known. His books include .44 , The Gun Trail, and Under the Burning Sun.

Glendon Swarthout – His terrific novel The Shootist is a classic and, fittingly, was the basis for John Wayne’s final western.

Harry Whittington – His westerns (Trouble Rides Tall, Vengeance is the Spur, etc.) are every bit as tightly-plotted and leanly-written as his fine crime novels…and were his only books to be adapted for films and movies.9780618154623_p0_v1_s260x420

Elmore Leonard – Before he was the king of crime, he was the king of westerns…many of his books and stories became beloved western movies, too… like 3:10 to Yuma, Hombre and Valdez is Coming.

Thomas Eidson – His book The Last Ride became the vastly under-rated film Missing directed by Ron Howard. His western St. Agne’s Stand is also terrific.

Other western writers I love include James Reasoner, Richard Wheeler, Bud Shrake (The Borderland), Marvin Albert, Lauran Paine, Frank Bonham, Thomas Berger (Little Big Man), Robert B. Parker (Gunman’s Rhapsody and Appaloosa), Tom Franklin (Hell at the Breech)Scott Phillips (Cottonwood), Jonathan Evison (West of Here), Patrick DeWitt (The Sisters Brothers) and Philipp Meyer (The Son). There are many more. In fact, I’m sure other authors and their great books will occur to me the instant I’ve posted this list…but that’s the risk you take when you do one of these.

2024 UPDATE: I would also recommend James Robert Daniels’ The Comanche Kid and Jane Fury, Jonathan Evison’s Small World, David Wagoner’s Road to Many a Wonder Clair Huffaker’s The Cowboy and the Cossack, and Jim Bosworth’s The Long Way North

(Hat tip to James Reasoner…whose list of his favorite western authors inspired me to share mine).

The 8 Diagnosis Murder Books in Order

I get asked all the time what the correct order of my eight DIAGNOSIS MURDER books is… so here you go, in chronological order:

TheSilentPartnerThe Silent Partner  – Dr. Mark Sloan is assigned to LAPD’s “unsolved homicide” files. As he reopens one case on the murder of a woman whose killer currently sits on Death Row, Sloan learns that the wrong man was charged. And that the real killer is still at large..

The Death Merchant – A dream vacation in Hawaii turns into a nightmare for Dr. Mark Sloan and his son, Steve, when a man they’ve befriended falls victim to a shark attack. But when Mark discovers evidence indicating the victim was murdered prior to becoming shark food, he and Steve comb the beaches to find a different kind of predator…

The Shooting Script – Dr. Mark Sloan is drawn to the sounds of gunfire at his neighbor’s Malibu beach house. There, he discovers the bullet-riddled bodies of an aspiring actress a Hollywood producer. An obvious suspect is the producer’s wife-who has gunpowder residue all over her clothing, but also has a perfect alibi. However, Mark thinks that the crime scene resembles a hit more than a crime of passion. When he and his son start investigating a local mob kingpin’s involvement, Mark soon finds himself unpopular with the police-and, of course, with the murderer.

The Waking Nightmare – Dr. Mark Sloan saves a would-be suicide victim, but her jump from a building ledge has left her in a coma. Obsessed with learning why she attempted suicide, Sloan stumbles into a manhunt for a cop-killer-who may turn his attention to nosy physicians next.

The Past Tense – Dr. Mark Sloan is startled to discover a dead woman—dressed as a mermaid—washed up on the beach outside his home. Even more bizarre, the autopsy reveals a digital memory card within a capsule inside the body’s stomach. The card contains the report of a forty-three-year-old murder in Los Angeles—the first homicide case Mark ever solved, when he was a struggling intern and newlywed father. When a second body is discovered—a woman who was apparently the victim of an impromptu autopsy in her own kitchen—the good doctor realizes that he must find the connection between the two murders. And perhaps more urgently, the connection to his own past

The Dead Letter – A blackmailer, a dead detective, and a mysterious letter that make an unusual request of Dr. Sloan: avenge a murder.

lastwordbetterThe Double Life – When Dr. Mark Sloan wakes up in his own hospital’s I.C.U., he doesn’t remember how he got there-or anything from the last two years of his life, including a wife he doesn’t recognize, and grandkids he never knew existed. He learns that he was run down in the street while investigating a series of mysterious deaths, all of whom were patients recently recovered from life-threatening illnesses and accidents. Mark resumes his investigation, only to realize that his “accident” was no accident, and that there is little time left to prevent another murder-his own.

The Last Word – The final book in the Diagnosis Murder series. When a young woman falls down a flight of stairs and is left brain dead, her family agrees to donate her organs. Dr. Jesse Travis oversees the grim task, saving several other seriously ill patients. But one of the organ recipients returns to the hospital with a complication no one could have seen coming-West Nile Virus. Soon, other patients who received organs at Community General begin dying of West Nile-related illnesses, and Jesse is suspected of being at fault. Dr. Mark Sloan knows his friend isn’t to blame-and he soon uncovers a conspiracy of greed and personal revenge that may mean the end of his career.

The Mail I Get – Show Me The Short Cut Edition

George R.R. Martin
George R.R. Martin

Every day I get emails from writers asking me how to break into the TV business. Most of them are looking for a short cut (namely, by using me, my agent and my friends).  And most of the writers, it seems, have only a vague idea of what being a writer or producer really involves. They just like the idea of it. Take this email, for instance:

I am contacting you to ask if you can give me advice on how to be a TV writer. I discovered you on a article in which you gave advice on how to break into the TV business.

My dream is to one day be an Executive Producer or Show runner for my own scripted show on television. However, I am not sure the correct route to achieve that dream. I understand that some people eventually have their own show by being a writer on many other scripted shows and working their way up. This is a path that I am reluctant to take because I am adamant about working on and putting out my vision. I am not really interested in contributing to other people shows or vision because I feel I have something unique to bring to television. Also, I have heard that some people get a TV show due to their work in the fiction world such as George R. R. Martin, the writer of Game of Thrones. I like this route better because he was able to keep his unique vision of his story without really compromising to any network or producer.

I have a lot of ideas and concepts; however, I don’t really know how to put together a cohesive story for the screen. Also, I understand to achieve any success in the film business it takes at least 10 years of hard work and networking. I was considering getting an online degree from Full Sail in creative writing or doing some kind of online writing program. What would you suggest I do considering all of this?

Do you think it is a good idea just to write a lot of short stories first as a way to get my work noticed by people? It bothers me that as of yet I have not been able to write any full length story of any kind. Can you give me advice concerning my questions? Thanks a lot.

There are so many misconceptions and bone-headed opinions in this email that I think the best thing to do is to tackle them one by one in the order in which they came up.

I am contacting you to ask if you can give me advice on how to be a TV writer. I discovered you on a article in which you gave advice on how to break into the TV business.

Did you actually read the article? Because I answered almost all of your questions in it.

I understand that some people eventually have their own show by being a writer on many other scripted shows and working their way up. This is a path that I am reluctant to take because I am adamant about working on and putting out my vision.

No, that’s not the reason you are “reluctant.” You want to take a short-cut. What you don’t seem to realize is that a TV series represents a $100 million or more investment. Before a studio or network will hand you that money to “put out your vision,” you will have to earn their trust in your skill and faith in your creative vision. You earn that by proving you can write a script and produce a TV show. Which you do by working your way up. Alternatively, you can earn that trust by writing a blockbuster hit movie or perhaps writing several internationally bestselling books…but even then, they will probably pair you with an experienced showrunner…someone who has worked their way up and gained the necessary experience to run a show.

I am not really interested in contributing to other people shows or vision because I feel I have something unique to bring to television.

You don’t. There’s an old saying in TV: ideas are cheap, execution is everything. No one is interested in your ideas or your vision. Everybody has those. What’s rare is talent and skill. You may not be interested in contributing to other people’s shows or vision. Too damn bad. That’s how the business works. It’s not going to be re-invented because you a) are too full of yourself to follow established path or b) are too lazy to put in the work involved.

Also, I have heard that some people get a TV show due to their work in the fiction world such as George R. R. Martin, the writer of Game of Thrones. I like this route better because he was able to keep his unique vision of his story without really compromising to any network or producer.

game-of-thrones-season-4You like this route better because you think it’s a short-cut. It’s not. Because it’s a fantasy. I hate to break it to you, but George did his time working on other people’s shows (ie Beauty and the Beast, Twilight Zone, etc ) before getting a shot at writing his own pilots. He eventually left television and concentrated on his books. He is not running Game of Thrones, David Benioff and D.B Weiss are. Both of them, incidentally, worked their way up writing books, movies and TV shows for other people before getting this show.

I have a lot of ideas and concepts; however, I don’t really know how to put together a cohesive story for the screen.

If you can’t do that, why would anyone entrust you with $100 million to write & produce a TV series? That is why you need experience and skill…built over years of working in the business…because if you can’t put together a cohesive story, and have no idea how, you are not a showrunner or a writer. You are a development executive.

I was considering getting an online degree from Full Sail in creative writing or doing some kind of online writing program. What would you suggest I do considering all of this?

Yes, getting an education and some training in the field you’d like to enter would be a very good idea. Go back and look at the article of mine you supposedly read for more details.

Do you think it is a good idea just to write a lot of short stories first as a way to get my work noticed by people? It bothers me that as of yet I have not been able to write any full length story of any kind.

It should, especially given your grandiose notions of your own amazing talent. No, I don’t think writing short stories are the path to becoming a TV writer and showrunner. Short stories have nothing to do with TV writing and producing.

Plotting As You Go

McHugh_Born_of_Hatred_cvr_FINALEverybody plots differently. I could never plot a book the way my friend Steve McHugh did with his two acclaimed novels “Crimes Against Magic” and “Born of Hatred.” But he might not finish a book at all if he took my approach. Creativity isn’t cookie-cutter. Everyone has to find their own way to their muse, so I asked Steve to tell us about his approach…which, considering how successful his books are, has clearly worked for him. 

If you ever ask a writer what type of plotter they are, you normally get one of two answers. They either have everything arranged and know what’s going to happen from one scene to the next, or they throw caution to the wind and see what happens. But there is a third group, the one that does a little bit of both. And that’s the group that I fall in.

I started my first published work, Crimes Against Magic, about 4 years ago. I’d just finished writing a book that will never see the light of day and decided that I needed to write something new. I only knew two things. 1. That the main character would be Nathan Garrett, a sorcerer and thief whose memories had been forcibly removed some time before the start of the book and 2. That it was going to be hard work.

I had almost zero notes for the story beyond a very basic outline and just decided to figure it out as I went. The first draft took about 6 or 7 months and was an abhorrent piece of rubbish, as were the next 2 drafts. I re-wrote the book 4 times in total until I found a story I actually liked and then I set about editing. That was another 4 or 5 drafts. I’m not sure how many it was in the end, but it was a lot and it took a very long time. In all, it took me 3 years to finish the book. After which, I decided to self-publish it and it, to my great shock, did very well.

I knew that I couldn’t take 3 years to write the sequel, so in between editing Crimes Against Magic, I started plotting Born of Hatred. When I say plotting, I mean in detail I knew what was going to happen at every moment.

Steve McHugh
Steve McHugh

That whole plan lasted about 3 chapters before the book went off on a tangent and I changed a bunch of things. This happened a few times during the story and I quickly realised something. I was not a detailed plotter. Once I’d re-done the plot so that it was just  the beginning and end with details about what I wanted to happen and roughly when, the story flowed a lot easier. I finished the first draft in 6 months and then the 2nd a few months later and that was it. The story was then edited, but that only took another draft or 2. It took me a lot less than a year to write book 2 and it was an even bigger success than book 1. Enough that 47North picked up both books, which were re-published last month, and book 3, which will be published next Feb.

I learned a lot from the experience of writing both books. And when it came to write book 3, I started with how I’d finished book 2. Enough details to guide me though what I wanted, but not enough to know every little detail. I know now that I like to be surprised, but still have that guideline to know where to go, even if I don’t know how I’ll get there.

It can take time to figure out which way of plotting works best for you. Some people take books to get to a place they like, and some do it with the first thing they write. And while you can read about how other people do it, the trick is trying different ways until you get it just right for you. Once that happens, you’ll find that your story comes together much easier.


The Mail I Get – Big Fat Liar Edition

Reverse-mortgage-fraud-scamIf you’re fattening up your credits with fakery, I’m probably one of the last people you want to contact. This tale of lame fraud began as a typical, badly-written solicitation for a blurb with the usual flattery at the beginning (I’ve taken out anything that might identify the author). The miss-spellings, awkward sentence structure, etc. are all his:

Let me start by saying I absolutely hero-worship you!  I own every one of you Monk DVDs and I have one of my servers named after him. (The other one is Columbo.  Needless to say not a single hacker of a virus gets past onto Monk and Columbo.)  I have read 7 of your Monk books and the new one, The Heist, that you have written with Janet Evanovich.

I love, love, love your sense of humour and the way you weave your homour in so effortlessly.

I was delighted to find your email address and am writing to ask if you would, by some off chance, be kind enough to review my book, XYZ, is due out with publisher  XYZ, on the 6th of November.

It is literary suspense fiction, a psychological and legal thriller around an aching love story set in London and on the beautiful Scottish and South English coasts. I have injected some humour into it and would love your feedback.


We should ask you to do the review it as a note to yourself in the first instance please since the book is being released only on the 6th of November. We can contact you when the book is published so that you could cut-and-paste your review on to  I shall be happy to provide my publisher’s email address if you wish to provide the review to her.

I live in hope that I might hear back from you due some good karma.

I’m sure he’s regretting that hope now. Here’s what I wrote back:

Thanks for thinking of me, and for your kind words about my books, but I’m afraid I don’t have time to blurb your novel. However, I did look at your web page, where you advertise XYZ as an Edgar-nominated novel. I don’t see how it’s possible for the book to be Edgar-nomated, since it hasn’t been released yet. You also mention in your bio that you are an Edgar-nominated author.  So I looked in the MWA Edgar database, and could find no mention of you or your books. Were you nominated under another name for a different book?

I knew for certain that he was lying about being an Edgar Award nominee, but I was being polite and wanted to see how he’d explain himself.He immediately wrote back:

It is in the works and the web site is only in preparation for the release that is coming in a month. The applications have been made to MWA with a galley of the book.

He was obviously unaware that I was chair of the MWA membership committee, that I helped draft the Edgar submission rules, and that I’ve been an Edgar Awards chair and a judge. I am absolutely the wrong person to try to con on this subject. So I wrote back:

Applying for an Edgar award does NOT make you an Edgar nominee. An Edgar nomination is a great honor and highly coveted and you have not earned one yet. You need to remove the Edgar references from your site right away.

On your website, you also excerpt reviews of your book from the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune. I have checked both newspaper sites and can find no record of the reviews. Are the reviews upcoming?

I knew that wasn’t the case, and that the reviews were fake, but I wanted to see how he’d try to talk his way out of this one. He shot back a quick reply, probably realizing by now that he’d made a big mistake contacting me and inviting me to look at his site:

Yes, from galleys.

While I was still reading that lame response, he immediately followed up with an email that he hoped would get me off his case.:

Mr. Goldberg: Don’t worry about the review. My publisher will handle the review galleys. I have to get permission from my publisher before presenting the galley for review and they have informed me I do not have permission too present it to you.

They’d informed him in the three minutes between our emails on a Sunday morning? Yeah, right. Not that it mattered. I wasn’t ready to let him off the hook yet. He was, after all, falsely claiming to be the author of an Edgar-nominated book that the Washington Post and Chicago Tribune had drooled all over. And that pissed me off. So I pressed on:

Do you mean that you’ve submitted the galleys for review…or that the Washington Post and Chicago Tribune have both reviewed the book in galleys and have sent you an advance peek at their to-be-published reviews?

I knew that wasn’t the case, either. But again, I was being outwardly nice about it. He, on the other hand, was scrambling. He replied:

They will publish the reviews on the right dates.
My website is not public until the date of publication either. It is just a work in progress for the publication date.

That explanation didn’t make much sense to me… and probably not to him, either. He’d been cornered and was not a good liar under pressure. So here’s what I wrote back:

I understand…but if you are directing potential reviewers and “blurbers” like me to a link to see the blurbs on your site, the blurbs should be real, not fake place-holders for the real reviews you hope to receive. It’s misleading.

BTW, your publisher is not on the list of MWA-approved publishers so your book is not eligible for Edgar award consideration. Your publisher needs to be vetted and approved by the membership committee before the book can be submitted for consideration.

He still wasn’t willing to admit his reviews were fake…or that he’d made a big mistake calling himself an Edgar-nominated author and his unpublished book as an “Edgar-nominated” novel. He wrote:

To clarify, the manuscript I sent was compiled my own working copy of the manuscript and not the actual galley from the publisher.
I have got a slap on my knuckles for being over-eager and enthusiastic to get into a discussion with you.

We are simply preparing things for the publication date.

We understand the requirements of the MWA. Thank you for your advice.

Here is some more advice:

1) before you contact an author for a blurb, make sure you have a well-written and coherent pitch letter.
2) Be sure you know all about the person you are contacting for a blurb. If you’re pretending to be an Edgar award nominee, don’t approach someone who used to be closely involved in the running of the Edgar Awards.
3) If you are pretending that your book has won acclaim from The Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune, don’t send your book to someone who has an internet connection and has heard of Google.
4) If you are plumping up your website with lies, don’t send a link to your site to someone who delights in ridiculing inept pitches and skewering liars regularly on his blog.